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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
I just went to the range today with my 581 series Mini-14 and two test batches of 8 lots each. These represent the sixth and seventh series of test loads to see if I can nail down the best load(s) for the gun. I'm also revisiting some earlier promising loads since I did a glass bedding and match trigger job.

The scope used is a Leupold VX-2, 2-7X mounted on Ruger factory rings. Of course, this scope is not sufficient power to obtain a critical hold, but is sufficient for comparative, relative analysis with all loads tested. Higher powered optics would have certainly provided improved results.

There is no question that the Mini-14 works with a very narrow group of powders, and is quite fussy. Those that worked extraordinarily well in my SR556 and other AR platforms didn't perform necessarily well in the Mini-14. My experienced guess is that the barrel is much more sensitive to vibration and barrel time. Having said that, I was convinced that something will pan out, and indeed, it did. I was not prepared for some of the groups that resulted. As I discovered, this gun does have the capacity to shoot with the correct load, provided that the gun first has a good trigger and bedding job. There is absolutely no point in seeking any accuracy loads without first addressing these issues.

See my article on this forum:
http://rugerforum.net/ruger-semi-auto/62491-tuning-up-your-mini-14-a.html

I've been using only the Sierra 52 grain HPBT MatchKing during the powder analysis, only for the reason that if a good load cannot be developed with this bullet, chances are slim that any other will be much better. While some experts differ from my point of view, my experience has been to nail down a workable powder first with a match grade bullet, as the powder is the variable that overshadows all others. Once that is done, I shop for bullets that I like and fuss with seating depth. A charge that works for a match bullet will be very close to the correct load for others in its weight class. Throughout all testing, primers should not be changed, as this can influence results. It is always a good idea to do a fine tuning by trying other primers. The .223 and 5.56 NATO do not require magnum primers. Though I did not have access to them at the time of testing from my retailer, I generally have preferred Remington 7-1/2 primers over the last 45 years with .222 class cases, which is the preference with the technician at Sierra labs that I spoke with recently.

I will not list powder charges; only the powders. Listing charges is pointless, as each rifle is a rule unto itself, but I do believe that certain powders performed so well in my Mini-14 that they should repeat that performance with others.

I seated bullets out to 2.268, slightly off from full magazine length, to minimize bullet jump. As you will see, while this may have a positive effect on accuracy, it effectively increases chamber dimensions and may have reduced operating pressures enough to cause sluggish ejection, as I discuss below. Please note that the NATO chamber used in the Mini-14 has such a long throat as compared to the .223 Remington that it's impossible to come anywhere near the leade where pressures would jump.

Bullets were given a moderate crimp with a Lee Factory Crimp Die, as I would recommend for any semi-auto to prevent bullet movement. However, for the sake of uniformity throughout the test procedure, I single loaded each round to prevent bullet distortion on cycling that could skew accuracy results. The Lee FCD is like no other on the market, and I recommend it highly. It requires no canelure, and will emboss its own to your exact preferred seating depth. Unlike other crimp dies, it does not roll the mouth, but rather crimps just as a factory loaded round is, and provides uniform release. I have had the experience of trying to dislodge bullets thus seated with an inertia bullet puller, and they will not budge, so they certainly will stay put with vigorous actions. In my testing, crimping never caused negative accuracy issues, although it does add to the work hardening of the brass which is a factor in case life. Can't have it all!

All loads tested with Winchester cases and CCI 400 primers. REDUCE CHARGES AND BEGIN AGAIN IF YOU SUBSEQUENTLY INCREASE SEATING DEPTH TO STANDARD OAL of 2.250".

As a rule, the extruded single base powders were far more uniform, with the single exception of Varget, which surprisingly did not work with this bullet and rifle with the loads tested. Any number of successive groups of different charge weights could be superimposed. Such was not the happy case with the double base ball propellants that threw groups to different impact points.

In order of performance, best to worst: (All tests fired at 100 yards.)

Hodgdon H322: This powder gave extremely fine performance with average 4-shot groups slightly over 1-1/2 inches. With three different charges, it yielded MOA! No other powder came close. Groups did not meander around point of aim either. My loads were derived from Sierra's manual, and the charge weights were markedly heavier than Hodgdon's but quite gentle on cases, with well rounded primers. I recommend starting with 24.0 grains, and work up by 2 tenths. I ended testing at 25.4 grains, with no apparent pressure signs. Extremely clean burning, moderate report, and cool.

Hodgdon Benchmark: This was also a very uniform performer across the spectrum, but groups averaged 1-3/4, with one turning in 1-1/4". Still very nice for a Mini-14. Again, predictable impact zones, similar to H322. Extremely clean burning, moderate report, and cool.

Hodgdon H335: This powder produced some high quality 1-1/2" groups bracketed with wide open ones. Very dirty with carbon fouling at gas block and distinct level of flash and report.

BL-C2: Similar performance to H335, but works best at full throttle; NATO level loads, with resulting 30 foot ejection. If accuracy is secondary to velocity, and you don't care about your cases for loading up an ammo can, I've found this is a terrific powder.

Hodgdon Varget: So far, I have only tested this powder at substantially maximum density loads, and it simply requires too much compression to conveniently load. With higher potential velocity being its only advantage over the previous extruded powders, I have eliminated it from testing, as it did not provide accuracy in this rifle with loads that justify its use. However, on heavier bullets such as the 63 grain Sierra Semi-Point in other casual testing, it did show some promise, and I will further that study for possible use on deer or coyote. In a pool last year here in New Hampshire, a local shop recorded a number of coyotes approaching and exceeding 50 pounds. That is some serious critter that calls for a good bullet especially in our wooded country where they might run off and not be found.

W748: I've got a pound, so I'll try more testing when I have occasion to, but so far, it has been a non-performer with the limited testing I've done. Typical of ball powders, it was quite dirty.

Conclusion: H322 is unquestionably the powder this rifle prefers, and it performed so well that there is no reason to use any other, except perhaps Benchmark, if the latter delivers substantially better velocity for a particular use. I have yet to chronograph any loads tested, and do not know. Variations in charges up the entire ladder test with extruded powders resulted in virtually no change in bullet impact zone. Group size changes were slight and not prone to radical changes from load to load, as is the case with ball propellant I have tried with this gun. No wonder the old timers never bothered to weigh charges at benchrest matches! First shots with cool barrels repeatedly pinwheeled into my bull, literally bisecting the cross hairs (of course, for field use I will adjust midrange trajectory). I am confident that this powder will work well with many 55 grain bullets in this class.

The only negative issue I have found at this time with either H322 and Benchmark powder is sluggish cycling of the operating rod, with cases being kicked forward by the returning bolt before they have time to clear the ejection port. With the forward scope mount in the way, cases got trapped on two occasions, completely crushing one. Cases that are clearing the gun are landing six to eight feet in front of the bench at 2 o'clock, which is very uncharacteristic for this rifle which typically hurls standard loads 20 feet to my right and NATO loads 30 feet over my shoulder. This, together with low report, mild recoil, and rounded primers combined suggest the load is not up to sufficient operating pressure. I may try incrementally deeper seating, and if that does not effect a solution, work up carefully to see if it improves without losing accuracy, and will do some chronograph analysis. I'm concerned that the reason these powders work so beautifully in the accuracy department is simply because barrel vibrations are kept to a minimum, and that, if given throttle, the barrel will resonate and ruin accuracy. Given the first shot accuracy of the load for varmint shooting, I do not consider this a problem, but with a scope that exacerbates clearance issues, this would not be a good choice where reliable cycling is paramount. But, for showing off at the range against other Mini-14s, H322 loads I tested sure do impress!
 
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Excellent writeup!

Let me digest this for awhile. :D
 
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Have you ever tried Hodgdon CFE223? I haven't started reloading any rifle calibers yet but want to get started in .223 and .308 and might try this powder first. I've read that this powder has been around for awhile and has been used for military rounds for some time. Hodgdon really talks it up but I know not to beleive everything I read.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
That powder is fast becoming popular and I will give it a try, perhaps. Spherical (ball) propellants have not provided the most consistent performance in the Mini-14 and are quite dirty, but this powder may clean up that act too. I've become a fast friend of Extreme series powders that are tremendously unaffected by temperature extremes. Most people forget that the greatest temperature extreme is the trip into the chamber, where each successive shot is given a hotter climate. I love my Mini for carry and convenience, but it's sensitive to a very small selection of loads if you want to keep things under 2-1/2 inches.
 
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GB, Have you ever used a Mo-Rod or AccuStrut. I was just curious of your views on these mods.
 
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Discussion Starter · #6 · (Edited)
No, I have not. But I wake up these days with a stiff neck half the time, and my age was a great influence on the weight factor of the little Mini. I'm trimming weight these days. Fact is, the Mini-14 is a great test of humility for me. Never in my life would I have ever considered a gun that had such accuracy issues, but I'm accepting it as a challenge to work through, and I'm basically intending to use it on called coyotes where any shot would be well within its range. I've always enjoyed accurizing guns and most respond nicely. But, on a percentage basis, no gun I've ever accurized responded as well as the Mini-14. Going from nearly 4" from the box to now 1" with at least one load is an incredible response. It now quite regularly shoots decent loads into 2" groups.

First shot accuracy is uncanny, precise to within 1/4 inch with H322 or Benchmark. As the barrel warms after 4 shots, things start happening, so it's not a gun you can sit and shoot 10 shot groups with and brag. But if I wanted a gun that shoots itty bitty holes all day, it wouldn't be any semi-auto. The practicality is that I've never shot even a two inch group into a crow. And, if I have to pull it out for something more serious than 4-legged critters and I need to whip out a 20 round magazine, I don't think one-inch rifles will be on my list of concerns.

But to answer your question, I've never been a proponent of touching barrels with anything that can influence them, simply because they add an element of unknown that can suddenly alter barrel response from one day to another. Such was the case back in the 50s and 60s when barrel tuning blocks under target stocks were the latest fascination. A guy would get his Model 52 all set up, shooting pinwheels, and two nights later every shot would be in the 8 ring during a match. There are thousands of such guns that sport two opposing holes in the forend of rifles where these blocks formerly resided.

I get terribly frustrated when I watch the hunting channels with my wife, and someone is about to take a shot at a big buck from a blind, 125 yards away. We say to each other, "He's gonna miss". He does. Incredibly, the shooter is resting his barrel on the sill of the blind and his guide doesn't correct him, with the shot flying high.

I conducted some tests back in 1976 to find out just how much influence barrel pressure affected impact. I knew it would be some affect, but never imagined just how much. Mind you, I used a Ruger M77 heavy varminter 22-250 to start off. I figured that if anything, a heavy barrel would be relatively unaffected. Between the forend pressure point and the barrel, I added paper shims, one piece at a time. A piece of 20# paper is only .004". Each piece of paper threw the group over an inch higher than the preceding one, and as the pressure really increased, the groups opened and the movement was multiplied.

Then I made one of the biggest mistakes I ever made with a rifle and virtually ruined its accuracy, not understanding the engineering that Bill Ruger had designed into it. As with all bolt actions I owned, I took the stock off and planed out the barrel channel to free float it. Whoa. To my horror, my 3/4" loads opened up to 1-1/2" and the group dropped off the bottom of the paper at 100 yards. But, I was able to return accuracy after building up a new resting pad for the barrel with glass, but I could never free float that gun. Now, you might think 3/4" groups are no big thing. Let me tell you. In 1976, bench rest matches were won by 1/2" guns. This MOA thing we do these days is relatively new, since gun makers finally started thinking outside the box built back in the 20's and began listening to people like the late Warren Page.

Discussing this with a Ruger engineer some years later over lunch at the Pine Tree Diner when I attended the Armorer's school revealed the reason. He smiled and told me how the angled front receiver screw worked in conjunction with the front pressure point, pulling down and forward. Without the forend pressure point, the screw actually stressed the receiver and caused all sorts of problems. That one issue was something I could never wrap my head around, and with a walnut stock that lurked under the barrel, changing pressure constantly and frustrating flyers, I finally gave up that beautiful pre-warning Bicentennial gun.

Since, I have also done some tests with regular sporter barrels. My conclusion was that any touching of the barrel was akin to pointing the barrel in a different direction than the target. You can verify this very easily with a simple bore colimator. Just insert it into the muzzle and look through the scope as you place your finger against the barrel, and watch the cross hairs go right across the grid, inches off. Add to that the influence on nodes and overtones--the oscilloscope-like waves that a barrel describes when whipped like a rope--and the shots are everywhere.

I have always believed that free floated barrels, together with a glass bedded receiver and support at the front of the receiver for just an inch in front of the threads, will yield the best accuracy. That was the combined logic gained by the bench rest fraternity, and most gun makers are finally following suit.

There are certain exceptions I've found to that rule. I think much money is wasted on barrel replacements for 10/22s. My standard barrel sporter shoots 1-1/4" groups at 100 yards from the box with certain ammo, and the only thing I make sure of is that the barrel has even contact all the way forward, with the gun being laid straight into the stock before I tighten the screw. Between the short 18-1/2 inch barrel and the straight grained walnut stock cradling it, it's stiff as a fence post and shoots like crazy, and it still looks like a gun. It's not the only stock 10/22 I know of that shoots like that, so Ruger has good barrels on them. :)

One thing that's absolutely vital is to be sure the barrel is tight to the receiver, even if you have to Devcon it in. My Ruger M77/22 stainless varminter required that treatment, as the factory barrel was simply wiggly, but I first applied Brownell's release agent for the day I may want to get it out. That gun is free floated and is now my buddy's, and it lays Wolf .22s into the same hole with monotony.
 

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Nice write up. I use RL10 which has a burn rate very close to H-322. Not giving us powder weights makes for an incomplete picture. It's like setting on a 3 legged stool with only 2 legs.

For reference, I use 24 grains of RL10 with a 55 grain V-Max or soft point bullet. This is close to max powder weight with this bullet but I get consistant performance out of 6 different semi autos including 3 Mini 14's. For Mini 14 only I use 23.4 grains with a 55 FMJ, otherwise my brass goes for miles and I find no real increase in accuracy. I think the faster powders burn up in the early stages and the first few inches of the barrel where the barrel is the heaviest.

This creates less vibration at the muzzle end. Just my thoughts, so RL 10 is consistant with Gun Blues findings shooting H-322. kwg
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
I forgot I have almost a full pound of RL10-X on my shelf, that I used with my 6.8 Mini. Shot well in that gun. I'll have to give it a try, based on your suggestions. Sounds like you're not having any issues with sluggish op-rod travel, either, as I am having with the H322 with the loads I'm using. I might give Sierra a call, as I'm way beyond Hodgdon's load, though I'm using Sierra data, so I don't want to peak suddenly and unexpectedly. As I said in the review, I'm seated way out, so I've artificially got an improved case, which is probably the whole explanation, but I am a prudent guy. ;)

The loads that gave me the best accuracy were 24.2 and 25.4.

What has been your OAL for best results in the Mini?
 

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Thanks for your great write up GB!

I need to learn how to bed my action. I noticed it is a bit loose in the stock, but I'm pretty happy with my mini and the 62gr FMJ's on H335 I've been shooting through it. I had no problem tearing up pumpkins at 50yrds:p
 

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I must have a rarity. Out of the box with 40gr Winchester Varmit loads I saw 1 1/2 moa @ 100 with my Mini Tactical. The worst group I have seen w 75 gr Hornady BTHP Match was about 2 1/2 w H335. And that was witha mixed batch of cases. My 55 gr FMJBT Hornady 2230 loads and 60gr factory have always been near 1 moa. As far as barrel heat, if you're shooting that fast to range out your group how small of a group do you need? Seems rapid fire would mean you're in a defense situation and just knocking the problem down would be a the goal, not the bullseye.
If I wanted a bench gun or safe queen I would have got somthin' else other than my Baby Garand. Here at one local major range the Mini 14 nay sayers are silent. MY buddy that is a leo armorer, combat veteran and PD sniper says my Mini shoots as good as any of thier service pieces but, I already knew that.
 

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If I didn't know any better I would swear you're calling me a liar. Didn't mean to step on toes, I'll leave this porch now.
 

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Gunblue asked:
What has been your OAL for best results in the Mini?

I don't try to make my OAL any number in particular. I set the bullet out far enough that it does not catch on the inside of the magazine. I set my dies years ago and that's where they are at now. I never bothered to measure OAL.

I will tell you I put a mild crimp on mine as well. I like the peace of mind they will not move. When I resize my brass I also neck and almost full length resize the brass. (I like to leave a little space at the bottom) Getting the shoulder right and in the right place let's me interchange the ammo with any .223 rifle I own. kwg
 

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GunBlue, I took interest in the 10/22 stock barrel comments.
Mine shoots 1.5 to 2" groups at 50 yards even with match ammo. I don't expect it to come close to my bolt Savage or CZ but I know it should do better. I have made up my mind about not putting any money replacing parts into it but I don't mind putting my time in for any improvements, thanks.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
GunBlue, I took interest in the 10/22 stock barrel comments.
Mine shoots 1.5 to 2" groups at 50 yards even with match ammo. I don't expect it to come close to my bolt Savage or CZ but I know it should do better. I have made up my mind about not putting any money replacing parts into it but I don't mind putting my time in for any improvements, thanks.
The greatest improvement for my 10/22 was to simply do a bit of trigger work, because it was quite tough and caused lots of movement at let-off, which I was able to see clearly when I put a temporary 24 power target scope on. There was nothing I could do to keep the cross hair within an inch at 50 yards with the terrible let-off, and it was over 6 pounds. Triggers are responsible for most accuracy problems. The stock trigger is quite workable without buying any expensive aftermarket trigger, and is really easy enough to hone with a small triangular white trigger stone (they're available from Midway, etc). I actually took some of the hook off with an India stone first, very carefully. If you align the trigger in a vise and use a magnifying glass to keep things at the original angle, you'll be fine. Just take a bit at a time, and keep trying it. If you can get yourself a 10X jeweler's Lupe, you'll see why the creep is there and you'll be able to stone things to perfection. It probably looks like tire tracks on a gravel road. You can safely get the 10/22 factory trigger to about 3-1/2 to 4 pounds, but with crispness it will make all the difference in the world. By the time you do it a few times, you'll be an expert at ripping down a 10/22!

You do that, and you'll be getting those 50 yard groups at 100. It certainly won't come close to your CZ or Savage, but you'll be very impressed, I think. Have you tried the inexpensive Federal bulk pack of the 36 grain copper plated hollow points, available from Wal-Mart? It's quite good and shoots flat, and I can't believe it's as accurate as it is for the money. It's not quite as good as CCI Mini Mags in mine, but it's very close, and a fraction of the money, plus with the hollow points I can use it in the field hunting without changing zero. The other load I look for is the Winchester 40 grain Power Point HP. That thing is really potent and accurate, too, and comes in standard bricks. I recently tried the Winchester Hyper Velocity. Accurate NOT. My best ammo for accuracy without breaking the bank, has been Wolf. It smell like Eley, so it's probably the same powder, too. Plain lead bullet, a bit greasy. Sinclair International got me going on that stuff years ago, and they have it more than most.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Gunblue asked:
What has been your OAL for best results in the Mini?

I don't try to make my OAL any number in particular. I set the bullet out far enough that it does not catch on the inside of the magazine. I set my dies years ago and that's where they are at now. I never bothered to measure OAL.

I will tell you I put a mild crimp on mine as well. I like the peace of mind they will not move. When I resize my brass I also neck and almost full length resize the brass. (I like to leave a little space at the bottom) Getting the shoulder right and in the right place let's me interchange the ammo with any .223 rifle I own. kwg
Thanks kwg. If you're out to magazine length, you're in the same country I am. I'm only .002" back from scuffing my 5-round magazine at 2.268", and didn't check it with my 20 round. There's no extra room in there, that's for sure. If it were for tactical use, I wouldn't be that far out, for fear of possibly catching, but the rounds seems to move up nicely.

I want to try that RL10 and see how it shoots though. Your results sound very promising. Since my first comments, I've done some checking on my brass and found that my lot of Winchester brass (not W-W) has very thin necks. My R-P brass has very thick necks and they are heavier than the Winchester. THAT is a cause for lots of concentricity problems. My Winchester brass has been around, so I think it will get its last reload for plinkers and retire them after. And you're right about setting up your die to minimum headspace. That's a very big help to keep things centered, but I was being cautious because of seating problems semi-autos have when they get a bit dirty. I'll play with it though and see.

Again, thanks.
 

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I think you will like the RL 10. I also want to try the H-322. It's been on my wish list for a long time. My wife and I just bought a new house and we have been packing and planning for an extended time. Hopefully by the end of January I will be in the new house and have my re-loading gear all set up and ready to go again. kwg
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Hope you manage to get set up quicker than me. I was over 5 years before I was able to finally get my bench built in our new house, but it was worth it... It's now a 24 footer with dedicated stations to work and spread out. :D
 

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The last owner of the house was a home builder. He set a up a complete shop in the basement and then passed away due to a heart attack. The tools are all gone but the shelves, benches and counter tops are still there. The good part is the house is just across the street from our current house. Hopefully we will start the move tomarrow.

I had my reloading equipment in the attic for 18 years while raising kids. I know the feeling of wanting and not having. kwg
 
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